March 1, 2015

The Phillies’ Only Closer Solution: J.A. Happ

I’m going to keep this short – but all any Phillies’ fan has been thinking about recently is how on earth we have any chance at repeating with the disaster that is Lidge and Madson in the 9th.

Here is my solution, and personally, I think it is the only solution with Myers out for a little, Madson failing in the 9th, Park out and Pedro pitching so poorly in the 1st inning in his starts (5 runs in 8 1st innings). Use Pedro Martinez as the 4th starter in the playoffs and insert J.A. Happ as your closer.

The reasons are simple…

  1. He’s good – Or more specifically, he’s tough to hit and doesn’t allow a lot of baserunners. Happ’s 1.20 WHIP is good for 10th best in the NL, and his ERA is good for 5th. In his 21 starts he has allowed only 3 1st inning runs the entire year. His pitching style is deceptive, which means that over-throwing or trouble getting loose would probably not be a problem. He also gets by mostly on his fastball, meaning there is less likely to be a situation where he gets hammered because he can’t control his breaking pitches. Finally, I believe he has the poise to be successful in big pressure situations. He showed poise in the playoffs last year, and didn’t get rattled with runners on base this year.
  2. There is a precedent - In 2006, the Cardinals were cruising towards the NL Central title, but their weakest link was their closer, Jason Isringhausen, who blew his 10th save in early September. They entered the playoffs without a true closer, but you might have heard of the man they used – 2009 Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright. They clearly viewed Wainwright as a future starter, but used him where they had to. The one difference from Happ is that he was predominantly used as a reliever during the regular season as well. Wainwright’s numbers in his first playoff experience? 9.2 IP, 0 runs, 5 saves, 1 World Championship.

So that’s the way I see it – Happ is the only option at closer if we want a realistic chance at repeating. A little outside the box, but I think it would work. What do you think?

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  1. judas_priest says:

    Happ has always been a starter until the beginningof this year.  So far this year he has pitched two days in a row exactly once and on one day’s rest, four times.  I think you are right in that we should use him to close games, but his whole routine and physical habits are not set up for pitching short innings in consecutive  games.  I think at best we can use him only every other game, unless there’s a travel day involved.

  2. tk76 says:

    judas_priest makes a good point about the different physical demands and preparation for being an everyday closer versus being a starter or spot reliever.

    But how relevant is this in the playoffs?  Isn’t there more time between games?  Also, do you think this puts Happ at risk for serious (arm) injury because of the different physical demands- or is it just a short term issue?

  3. Pete says:

    jp, tk -

    If he was a power pitcher with a jerky motion who had never relieved before, I would have similar concerns. But he is none of the above. I’m not sure he would have to throw any harder to be an effective closer.
  4. Drew says:

    I’ve been preaching this theory for 2 days to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t listen).  It’s the only reasonable solution I can see. It’s definitely not ideal but we are waaaay past ideal.

  5. Dan says:

    Happ’s gotta be the guy, it sets up the rotation nicely for playoffs.  I guess this story is…progress?'t-be-sole-closer

  6. pg says:

    I will admittedly eat some crow as I thought – as of 3 weeks ago well after most had jumped of the Lidge bandwagon -  Lidge was still the best solution.  Yea well….not much I can say at this point with an ERA over 9 and at least 2 blown saves since then.

    Myers might have made sense had he not gotten hurt, but I think you are right on Pete.  Because the 5 man rotation has been so solid since the All-Star break, you want to be able to use that fifth starter.  Certainly the 8th or 9th inning would be the two biggest impact places to insert that fifth starter, and since it’s not even a question of where he should go between the two – I think you do make a compelling case.

    If this does pan out, it is a little unnerving to go into the post season with a closer who has not closed all season.  But….as you indicate, he does not seem to get rattled, and is there a better option?

  7. tk76 says:

    Also, as I said in the other thread:

    Manuel will just tell Lee, Blanton and Hamels that he needs 9 inning from them every start- old timer style.

  8. bski says:

    Could work.  No way to know how he’d respond, but you get the sense that he’d step up, don’t you?  I’d certainly expect the results to be better than what we’ve been getting lately anyway.  Also, with Eyre looking like he should be able to contribute and the positive news on Romero that hopefully leads to his return,  Happ should be freed up for a shot at it. 

    So, does Charlie let him make his last two starts and then move him for the playoffs?  I doubt it.  At least I wouldn’t want to see him go about it that way.  Better off to let Moyer take Happ’s remaining starts and get Happ to the back end of the bullpen now, don’t you think?

  9. Trillo Fan says:

    I’d be fine with trying Happ as the closer, but there are two potential complications.  First, he seems to be the primary candidate to be the situational lefty in the bullpen (to pitch to people like Helton or Hawpe).  Maybe Romero or Eyre can return to fill that role, but if they don’t, would you send Happ to the closer role and not have a situational lefty?  Second, even Wainwright in 2006 had two save opportunities before the regular season ended (and converted them both).  With just 10 games (and maybe 4-5 save opportunities) left, Charlie M. needs to pick somebody (other than Lidge) and give him the chance to succeed.  I’m not confident at this point that Manuel has fully given up on Lidge to the extent that someone else will get that chance.   Here’s hoping I’m wrong, but let’s say I’m not:  would you give Happ the chance to close in the playoffs if he hasn’t closed all year?

  10. Pete says:

    tf -

    all good points. but, it might not be the greatest option, but is there a better one?
    I agree that Manuel needs to pick someone and give them some shots in the regular season.
  11. Trillo Fan says:

    but is there a better one? I know it’s not a popular option, but Madson did go 4 of 5 in save opportunities when he was the temp. closer earlier this month, with the last one arguably the best.  Considering that improved performance together with his 26 of 28 in hold opportunities this year, I think he’d be able to close effectively if he could get past the nerves of the 9th inning (which he was just starting to do before Manuel went back to Lidge mid-month).  Madson wouldn’t necessarily be better than Happ at closer, but I think he’s a better option if Happ is the only lefty in the ‘pen …

  12. bski says:

    Remember last year during the playoffs when Madson all of the sudden started bringing major heat and just blew away the opposition?  He said that since there were only a couple weeks left in the season he just let loose and went all out.  I know he has been throwing harder this entire season, but could there be a chance that he can reach back, get a little something extra on his pitches, and duplicate last year’s postseason success?  I have the feeling he can.

  13. pg says:


    I agree and those are good pts.  My worry though is that you could be messing with two innings as opposed to one.  Madson is generally automatic in the 8th.  I would rather they be tinkering with just the 9th.

    If this were early in the season, I think you might be right, and people who are closers can be setup men and vice versa, but at this point in the season when everything is so closely scrutinized, tensions build, comfort is an issue, etc. , I hope they only worry about the 9th and use what has worked up until then.

    If he is the only lefty in the pen, then that makes this conversation moot and probably do what you suggest unless they either go closer by committee or bring up another arm.  I am still holding out hope for Eyre and Romero.

  14. Pete says:

    Pedro not being able to pitch a Game 4 would make this a lot more difficult

  15. Chris McC says:

    I don’t know why, but for some reason I still think that Lidge could close in the postseason.  I get not wanting to risk it but, I don’t think there’s something physically prohibiting him from pitching well.  If there was Charlie would have sat him down a while ago.  This is mental, everything with closers is mental.  We’ve all seen what happens when you bring a closer in to a non-save situation, they get lit up, because that tension isn’t there.  I still think, once the playoffs start and he’s staring down Pujols in the 9th inning with runners at the corners, that he can get it done. On that mound, in the 9th is where this man does business! 

    I know that simply reading the Pujols sentence above probably just gave somebody a hearth attack.

    But like I said, I understand not wanting to throw him out there and then just hope he gets it right when the title is on the line.  So, do I think Happ can do it, hell yes.  I think Happ can do anything, I’ve always felt that JA was going to be a big game pitcher and this season has only cemented that.  But, I agree with those who say that if Happ’s the postseason closer, you gotta give him the job now and let him get used to it.

  16. Mark says:

    Isn’t Scott Mathieson healthy? Doesn’t he throw heat? I may be confused but I thought he could be a good option, oh well too late for him to be in the playoffs now

  17. The Real Rob says:

    Chris McC– you are right about the fact that Lidge’s elbow injury is affecting his play, as well as his confidence, but the Phils must have other alternatives for the closer for THIS year.  I think Charlie should decide who the closer is by matchups, who pitches well against certain players. 

    I like the idea of having Happ as a closer though!

  18. jkay says:

    ChrisMac: stop dreaming! Lidge was perfect last year, the ultimate closer. Who knows whats wrong with him (physical, mental, both?) but point is he’s broke and if he was gonna fix himself, it would have happened. Small chance you’re rght but its still wishful thinking. as much as i dont want to admit it, this is a closed book. we’ll try again next year.

    on Prince Fielder: as much love as I have for Howard, check out the Prince! Generates so much power, some pretty good hitting. Lee coldnt get him out to save his life. The difference in the game. Wonder whether Milwaukee will be able to keep him long term or does he become a Yankee or Sox-er?

  19. THE COMMISH says:

    Much agreed Pete my good man.  Well thought out.  I’ve been saying this for a week now.  Anyone who thinks Maddawg can reach back and get a “little extra” on the ball doesn’t notice that when he does this, his ball flattens out.  Anyone who saw how masterful Pedro was in the 130 pitch gem, knows that movement is everything.  Myers has baffled noone since his return.  Scott Eyre is an Eyronious choice. And Brad Lidge blows more than just saves. Here’s how the repeat HAPPens!

  20. The Real Rob says:

    Bottalico brought up a great point– with the injuries to Eyre, Condrey, and Romero, it made the lives of Madison and Lidge a lot tougher.  When those guys were healthy last season, it made our 8th and 9th inning guys’ lives much easier!  But, as of now, I am for Happ as our closer, unless Pedro or any of our starters are out for the season. 

  21. Pete says:

    can the Braves PLEASE lose? not counting the 2 of 3 they lost to us – they have won 12 straight.

  22. The Real Rob says:

    You said it Pete!

  23. tk76 says:

    So does momentum count for much?  Assuming they get there, a five game series scares the hell out of me.  Closer and timely hitting asides, what they really need is their potentially dominant starters to heat up- because they will be the difference in the post season.  If Hamels and Lee can be dominant everything else could still fall into place.

  24. jkay says:

    Pete: its all set up to play this way, there always has to be drama in the end. the braves keep on winning cos they have to, the phillies keep splitting cos theyre not serious and end up clinching much later after staving off a last mineute atlanta surge. wouldnt have it any other way right?

    our bullpen looks REAL weak now.

  25. Pete says:

    Buster agrees with me…

    matt (philly)

    What are your feelings on the suggestion that Happ could be a replacement for Lidge as a closer in the playoffs?

    Buster Olney

    (2:00 PM)

    Matt: If I were running the Phillies, I’d start trying it tonight. Why not try it? Heck, we saw Wainwright step up and dominate in October three years ago… Maybe Happ could solve the Phillies’ biggest problem.With that, folks, my time is up. I’ll be chatting again in two weeks. Sorry that I had to stop in the middle of it…

  26. jkay says:

    Pete: have you lost faith in Madson?
    dont get me wrong I think Happ is the best option, even if he’s never done it.

  27. Pete says:


    No, I haven’t – but Happ is much stronger mentally in my opinion. Madson has trouble with change for some reason and it certainly has nothing to do with his stuff. I think he’s comfortable in the 8th and should stay there. If I’m Charlie, I throw Happ out for the next 2-3 save opportunities. If he blows it, I guess Madson would have to be my 2nd choice.
  28. jkay says:

    yeah you’re right Madson is an 8th innning guy first.  i dont think Charlie has the stones to pull a move like that. love him but thats more of a Ozzie Guillen type move. We’ll see.

  29. bski says:

    Uh, if the Phils regulars are so tired that they can only muster 2 hits against a pitcher like Bazardo, and 4 hits total against a poor Astros team with nothing to play for, maybe it’s time to rest them now.  How much less can we possibly get from the bench players?

    On the bright side, Lidge didn’t give up a run for the first time in I don’t know how long in his one inning of work.

    (BTW, the Braves won again)

  30. Trillo Fan says:

    Also, the question of whether Happ should be closer is almost irrelevant right now — they need Happ to give them a quality start tomorrow night, and maybe Sunday too.  The Phillies have to assume Atlanta isn’t going to lose, so they need to find 3 wins in 6 games.  Preferably it will be these next three against some truly horrid Astros starters.  But like bski said, if they can’t beat someone like Bazardo (or should it be Bizarro?), they should take nothing for granted …

  31. bski says:

    This really is getting frustrating, if not scary.  I mean, we faced some lousy starters with ERAs over 6 in Milwaukee and only came away with a split.  Tonight we did next to nothing against a 9-something ERA pitcher in Bazaro.  What will tomorrow bring against Wilton Lopez and his 8.44 ERA?

    We should be pounding these guys and the division should be locked up.  The longer this continues, the more concerned I get.  I haven’t even mentioned Hamels either.

  32. Pete says:

    I’ll have a new Phils post up tomorrow – too much going on today with the NBA previews and Eagles. Also, I started writing one and was just too ticked off to do anything more than a couple sentences.

  33. bski says:

    Maybe the Phils need to make Happ the closer, a la Wainwright, if for no other reason than to try and recreate the Cardinals’ magic of 2006.  We’re certainly well on our way to ending our season as poorly as they did three years ago, so it might be our only chance at repeating.